TODAY television and cinema are ruling the roost and books have taken the back seat but the desire to read or hear a story is so overpowering that one is tempted to read a fiction to get the experience that only a story in print can give. You want to be inside every story that you read. It is the magic of fiction – you take the words and you build them into stories. The true hallmark of great literature is great imagination and Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio prove this with this compilation of stories and show that when it comes to great fiction, all genres become equal. This anthology re-invigorates, expands and redefines the limits of imaginative fiction and affords some of the best world writers like Peter Straub, Chuck Palahniuk, Roddy Doyle, Diana Wynne Jones, Stewart O’Nan and Joyce Carol Oates to work together, defend their craft and realign misconceptions.
The anthology begins with Roddy Doyle’s ‘Blood’ which has a slick and sickening twist to its story of a seemingly ordinary man who develops an insatiable craving for raw meat and an irresistible thirst for blood.
Joyce Carol Oates writes in ‘Fossil Figures’ the story of two embryos insides a woman’s great belly. Where there should have been one, there are two – the demon brother, “the larger, ravenous with hunger and the other, smaller brother, and in the liquidy darkness a pulse between them, a beat that quivered and shuddered, now strong, now lapsing…” In her ignorance, the mother does not yet know that she has not one but two – “flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood and get not one but two.”
The story that can be read and re-read is ‘The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains’ where the protagonist is a man, who is short, secretive and never named but who seeks “a certain cave on the Misty Isle” where it is rumoured a deathly spectre awaits to grant his heart’s desire and acts as a guide to take him to it.
The stories should be labelled ‘for adults only’ and are meant for fans of fantasy or the weird to keep them happy. The surprises and twists well crafted into the stories make you echo Neil Gaiman’s words in the Introduction to ask, “And then what happened?”
(Hachette, John Murray Publishers, 338 Euston Road, London NW1 3 BH; www.johnmurray.co.uk) -MG